Langston Blue

By Jericho Brown

“O Blood of the River of songs,
O songs of the River of Blood,”
Let me lie down. Let my words

Lie sound in the mouths of men
Repeating invocations pure
And perfect as a moan

That mounts in the mouth of Bessie Smith.
Blues for the angels kicked out
Of heaven. Blues for the angels

Who miss them still. Blues
For my people and what water
They know. O weary drinkers

Drinking from the bloody river,
Why go to heaven with Harlem
So close? Why sing of rivers

With fathers of our own to miss?
I remember mine and taste a stain
Like blood coursing the body

Of a man chased by a mob. I write
His running, his sweat: here,
He climbs a poplar for the sky,

But it is only sky. The river?
Follow me. You’ll see. We tried
To fly and learned we couldn’t

Swim. Dear singing river full
Of my blood, are we as loud under
Water? Is it blood that binds

Brothers? Or is it the Mississippi
Running through the fattest vein
Of America? When I say home,

I mean I wanted to write some
Lines. I wanted to hear the blues,
But here I am swimming in the river

Again. What flows through the fat
Veins of a drowned body? What
America can a body call

Home? When I say Congo, I mean
Blood. When I say Nile, I mean blood.
When I say Euphrates, I mean,

If only you knew what blood
We have in common. So much,
In Louisiana, they call a man like me

Red. And red was too dark
For my daddy. And my daddy was
Too dark for America. He ran

Like a man from my mother
And me. And my mother’s sobs
Are the songs of Bessie Smith

Who wears more feathers than
Death. O the death my people refuse
To die. When I was 18, I wrote down

The river though I couldn’t win
A race, climbed a tree that winter, then
Fell, flat on my wet, red face. Line

After line, I read all the time,
But “there was nothing I could do
About race.”

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